An Aiken High School student got a big surprise in class Wednesday morning.

Rachel Larson, a 17-year-old senior, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for college by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina Inc. Representatives from Aiken Electric Co-op and Children's Place delivered the scholarship to Larson in her first-period class.

"I was really surprised," Larson said. "I saw everybody come in and I was like, 'oh my gosh.'"

Over the summer, Larson put together a soccer clinic for kids at Children's Place, a local nonprofit that provides counseling and resources to those dealing with early childhood trauma. Larson, a soccer player at Aiken High, showed up with several of her teammates to help teach the kids the basics of the sport. 

“Some kids come to volunteer – she came with an army,” said Children's Place Executive Director Peggy Ford in a press release.

Larson raised enough money for the clinic to ensure every child went home with a soccer ball, and Ford said they haven't stopped playing soccer since. Money leftover from fundraiser to purchase soccer balls was donated to purchasing books for the kids at Children's Place. 

For her project, Larson was chosen to represent Aiken Electric Co-op at the Cooperative Youth Summit which was held in Columbia for four days in July. The leadership summit enabled 55 participating students from across the state to apply for the 2019 R.D. Bennett Community Service Scholarship.

Larson's soccer clinic was so well received that she won the scholarship – but it was kept a surprised until Wednesday morning. 

"I cried," said Sally Tice, Larson's mother. "This was an amazing surprise, but it was more about the project and being able to be a part of what Aiken Electric Co-op was doing than anything else."

Larson was one of 128 students eligible to apply for the scholarship. 

"One of our cooperative principles is commitment to the community," said Chase Toler, public and member relations coordinator for the Electric Cooperative of South Carolina Inc. "Rachel won today because, out of all the presentations, hers had the greatest impact on her community."

The scholarship will go toward any two or four-year higher learning institution. It has been awarded since 2012. 

"It's so awesome," Larson said. "It means so much, in the way that it impacted me and impacted other people."

Between working, playing two sports and taking college courses, Larson keeps very busy. But she still plans on making time for the kids she's gotten to know at Children's Place; spending time with them, making crafts and of course, playing soccer.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.